From the sad to the strange: six of the biggest surprises in bloodstock in 2019
Martin Stevens reviews some of the most remarkable stories of the past year
1. Crystal Ocean stallion deal sparks debate
Few developments generated as much debate as the purchase of Crystal Ocean – the joint-leading performer globally in 2019 according to October's interim edition of the Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings, along with Enable and Waldgeist – to become a jumps stallion under the Coolmore banner at The Beeches Stud.
The departure of another top-rated middle-distance performer in Poet's Word from the Nunnery Stud roster after only one season to take up dual-purpose duty at Boardsmill Stud had already highlighted how hard it is for runners with even an ounce of stamina to gain respect from Flat breeders.
But the Crystal Ocean news would have been particularly hard to fathom for those blissfully unaware of the caprices of stallion fashion as he is a Sea The Stars half-brother to high-class pair Crystal Capella and Hillstar, and had scored his Group 1 over ten furlongs in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, in which he had Magical and Waldgeist behind. He also ran admirably when second in the King George and Juddmonte International this year.
Crystal Ocean's immediate designation as a National Hunt stallion was indeed a damning indictment of British and Irish breeders' disregard for middle-distance talent; all the more so as it is believed Coolmore's chief rivals to secure his services were in Germany.
But then there is nothing to stop Flat breeders without a commercial imperative using him at The Beeches Stud, and it will be interesting to see if the outrage about the deal heard in sales house bars and seen on social media translates into lots of Flat mares being sent to him at a bargain price of €8,000 in 2020.
2. What price a Newbury novice hurdle runner-up?
We have known for some time that there is fevered demand for the most promising jumps horses; just look at the blockbuster prices paid at boutique race-day auctions for winning point-to-pointers for evidence.
One of those top-priced horses from the pointing sphere was Interconnected, who sold to Mike Grech and Stuart Parkin for £220,000 at the Tattersalls Cheltenham Festival Sale of 2018 after winning at Larkhill by 20 lengths for Sophie Lacey.
But what happened when the five-year-old Network gelding, who subsequently finished a close second in a Newbury novice hurdle for Nicky Henderson, went through the ring at Doncaster in May as part of the joint-owners' dispersal of their string was not just surprising but downright extraordinary.
Interconnected became part of a frenzied bidding duel between high-rolling owner Darren Yates, standing with trainer Philip Kirby, and the sales house's Nick Nugent taking instructions on the phone. Yates had the final say, but had to go to £620,000 – a record for a Doncaster sale as well as for a National Hunt horse anywhere at auction – to do so.
The high drama did not remain in the ring, as only a few months later Yates moved most of his horses from Kirby, including Interconnected, claiming his own superstitions as the reason, while the record breaker himself, now in training with Dan Skelton, was ruled out of running this season due to a minor injury.
3. The hare-brained scheme that could just come off
David and Kathleen Holmes received plenty of warm wishes when in 2017 they decided to leave one of the last colt foals born to their late rags-to-riches sire Midnight Legend entire in the hope he would win a black-type race on the Flat or over jumps and earn a position at stud to continue the line. But there were a lot more cynical mutterings and condescending smiles.
The couple are no naïve newcomers to the industry, though, and they were well aware that the foal – auspiciously named Midnights Legacy – had a page that entitled him to own his fair share of talent and even stallion potential. He is out of the Bloomsbury Stud-bred Generous mare Giving, who had Group 1 fillies Heaven Sent and Rajeem behind when she won a Warwick maiden and is a half-sister to stakes scorers Burn The Breeze and Lethal's Lady as well as Miracle, the dam of Champion Hurdle hero Katchit.
The well-bred Midnights Legacy turned two this year and looked the part in pre-training with Jamie Goss before he was handed over to Alan King, for whom he won a Bath novice stakes by two and three quarters of a length in October on just his second start.
The doubters were well and truly silenced, and there is now considerable excitement for his three-year-old season, when he is expected to pursue bigger pots on the Flat before going down the juvenile hurdling route.
The omens for the colt's future in juvenile hurdles are favourable, as his year-older sister Midnights' Gift and two years-older half-sister Giving Glances have both won black-type events in that discipline in the past 12 months.
4. Unexpected move east for in-demand Derby winner
We are accustomed to emerging racing nations buying up stallions who had not quite made the grade in Britain and Ireland, but one variation on such a deal in 2019 sent eyebrows soaring: the Turkish Jockey Club's purchase of Derby winner Authorized.
The transaction was surprising on a number of levels. First, Authorized was a brilliant Derby winner who also defeated multiple Group 1 winners Dylan Thomas, Notnowcato and Duke Of Marmalade to win the Juddmonte International. He must rank as one of the highest rated horses to have ever stood in Turkey.
Second, Authorized was far from a failure as a stallion. On the Flat he had delivered the redoubtable Australian superstar Hartnell and Group 1-winning fillies Ambivalent and Seal Of Approval, while over jumps he had been represented by dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll and Stayers' Hurdle scorer Nichols Canyon.
It was widely known that Darley had turned down many offers from jumps studs in Britain and Ireland to stand Authorized, and so he had remained at Haras du Logis in Normandy since 2014. The decision to instead sell him aged 15 looked strange to say the least.
That said, perhaps we should not have found Turkey's pursuit of top-class stallion talent a total shock. The country has lots of cash to splash generated by a local betting tax, and indeed they also bought Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Bodemeister, sire of Always Dreaming, who also triumphed in the Churchill Downs Classic, in 2019. Authorized would have been firmly in their sights after his offspring Toruk Macto and Bici Bici had won big races there.
5. Value sire seals treble on racing's biggest stage
Bated Breath, available at Banstead Manor Stud at a fee of £12,500 in 2020, has long been noted as a useful value for money sire but he made a big breakthrough this year as he matched the feat of the far more expensive half-brothers Galileo and Sea The Stars by supplying three individual winners at Royal Ascot.
Biometric got the ball rolling when mowing down Turgenev to take the Britannia Handicap, and one day later Daahyeh put in an impressive display when winning the Albany Stakes. Space Traveller sealed the three-timer a day after by defeating his 17 rivals in the Jersey Stakes.
Daahyeh went on to win the Rockfel Stakes and finish second in the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes, Moyglare Stud Stakes and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, while Space Traveller scored in the Boomerang Stakes and was not disgraced in eighth in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Both look capable of giving Bated Breath an elusive first Group/Grade 1 winner in 2020.
Bated Breath is one of four active stallions stationed at Banstead Manor who have progeny of racing age; in further proof of the brilliance of Juddmonte bloodlines, all were represented by winners at the royal meeting this year. Frankel posted handicap scorers Baghdad and The Grand Visir, Kingman delivered the first two home in the Hampton Court Stakes, Sangarius and Fox Chairman, and Oasis Dream got on the board with Royal Hunt Cup victor Afaak.
6. Qatar Racing great gone far too soon
There are nice surprises and there are nasty surprises, and sadly 2019 often seemed to deal us more of the latter – from revelations about malpractice in the buying and selling of racehorses to allegations about big-spending owners' backgrounds, and then a final kick in the teeth to see out the year with the news that four stallions, including Triple Crown hero Justify's half-brother The Lieutenant, had been slaughtered in a grisly attack on a stud in Peru.
But perhaps none were more shocking than Roaring Lion's demise due to colic after arriving at Cambridge Stud in New Zealand for his first round of shuttling duty in August.
Qatar Racing's colour bearer had won legions of fans not just for his champion three-year-old season in Europe in 2018, but for his strikingly handsome looks and the abundant charisma he displayed when shown off to breeders at his northern hemisphere home at Tweenhills.
One of the happier turns of events in 2019 was the emergence of another exciting Qatar Racing-owned son of Kitten's Joy in Kameko, an impressive winner of the Vertem Futurity in November, while the coming weeks should provide further compensation to this tragic tale as the sole crop of Roaring Lion foals start arriving on studs.
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